Les Oréades (1902) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, in Musée d'Orsay

Ancient word of the day: Nymph

In Greek mythology, the nymphs were tiny and minor goddesses that each presided over a type of landscape feature. Normally something glimmering, glittering and bewitching in nature like waterfalls, streams, mountains, lakes or trees.

The name nymphe means bride in Greek and so the tiny and bewitching nymphs represented the brides or maidens of the natural world. During the 18th Century, the word nymph took on a medicalised tone with the invention of the word nymphomania to describe women who experience uncontrollable sexual desire. Although, truth be told, in the archaic myths of ancient Greece, it was the nymphs who had to fend off the advances of horny satyrs and Olympians.

Dryads: Found lingering amongst the trees

Dryads: Found lingering amongst the trees
Dryads: Found lingering amongst the trees

Hersperides: found during the dusk wandering through gardens and promoting the growth of apples.

Hercules and the Hesperides (Rubert Bunny, 1864 – 1947)

Hyades: Nymphs found fluttering through downpours and torrents of rain.

Meliads: Located in among the ghostly ash trees

Meliads: Located in among the ghostly ash trees

Naiads: glimmering nymphs native to gentle streams and creeks

:A Naiad or Hylas with a Nymph by John William Waterhouse (1893)
A Naiad or Hylas with a Nymph by John William Waterhouse (1893)

Nereids: Stoic nymphs that calm down stormy seas

A beauty contest between Cassiopeia and the Nereids. From the mosaic floor of a Roman Villa named in Paphos, Cyprus. Circa 4th century BC.
A beauty contest between Cassiopeia and the Nereids. From the mosaic floor of a Roman Villa named in Paphos, Cyprus. Circa 4th century BC.

Oceanids: Powerful water nymphs that traverse the oceans     

Seawalls: Artists for Oceans in Quirky Napier, New Zealand
Aaron Glasson: Pania of the Reef – a modern day Oceanid of Aotearoa

Oreads: Soaring and sky-brushing nymphs that live in the mountains

Les Oréades (1902) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, in Musée d'Orsay
Les Oréades (1902) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, in Musée d’Orsay

Pleiades: Seven nymphs associated with the goddess Artemis, later turned into a famous constellation.

The Pleiades (1885) by the Symbolist painter Elihu Vedder

Source: Opening Pandora’s Box by Ferdie Addis

Theoi: The most comprehensive online encyclopedia of ancient Greece I have ever seen

6 thoughts on “Ancient word of the day: Nymph

  1. Just uploaded a word of the day as well- prefer yours! Wasn’t Achilles’s mother a sea nymph / lesser goddess? Madeline Miller had more than a few in her books.

    1. Thanka Jeremy…yeah I have to read that book Circe it’s on my shelf. I remember you saying it was good. I don’t know much about nymphs really. I learn as I go with writing them….the idea of the nymphs is absolutely fascinating though, look forward to seeing them all in Madeleine Miller’s book. I got this idea out of a book I reviewed a while ago called Pandora’s Box about Classical History

      1. Ah Circe is a good read — think you’ll really enjoy it given many of the ancient words of the day you select! The Song of Achilles is also good

      2. Oh I’m looking forward to it. I’m so glad I got it thanks for recommending

  2. Thank you Jess…yeah I thought so too, it transports you into a liminal half-real world, pure magic eh 🙂

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